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Refugee Week 2021 – Excursion to Christ Church Cathedral and the Liffey. By Muhammad Achour and Paddy Woodworth

We are delighted to report that we have, after a very challenging time for all of us during the ongoing pandemic, organised another successful Sanctuary in Nature and Heritage excursion.

During the 18 months since our last trip, to the Hide Project and Ardgillan Castle in December 2019, we were only able to organise one ‘event’, the distribution of books on nature and heritage to our friends in Mosney Direct Provision Centre and elsewhere, which you can see a report on here…/…/09/the-pandemic-pause

The recent excursion took us to Christ Church Cathedral Dublin, St Audoen’s wildflower garden, the amphitheatre behind Dublin City Council Offices, Dublin’s old city walls and the River Liffey, on Saturday June 19th.

We were very happy to be working with three new partners on this occasion, Christ Church Cathedral’s Refugee Week programme (through the Revd Abby Sines), the new Birds Connect project from BirdWatch Ireland (through Andrew Lynch), and Places of ARcture (though Muhammad Achour), as well as City of Sanctuary DublinLorcan Scott of the Heritage Council attended as an observer. We are very grateful to all these organisations and individuals for their help, and of course to our enthusiastic volunteers as well.

The trip was, naturally, subject to public health guidelines, with families remaining in their bubbles, and mask-wearing and social distancing were the norms throughout. Nevertheless, and despite our concerns about this, an atmosphere of community and communication was still very evident and grew as the excursion progressed.

We had 33 guests of Albanian and Syrian origin, including 16 children, and nine Irish volunteers, including 2 children. The day gave our guests opportunities to enjoy, and learn about, both the city’s natural and built heritage, from wildflowers and seagulls to historic buildings, and offered a unique opportunity for our younger guests to interact with children in Aleppo. For more details, please read on!

Report on the day’s events

10 am

Muhammad met Brian, our very helpful driver from Kierans Bus Hire, at Mosney Direct Provision Centre. The families were all ready to go. All were seated in assigned places to comply with covid restrictions.

We arrived at the Cathedral 40 minutes later, and met the other families, friends and volunteers who had come separately. We formed a circle outside the cathedral and Abby and Muhammad welcomed our guests. Then Abby talked about the tour of the Cathedral and gave us brochures in English and Arabic (translated by Muhammad), so that each family bubble could self-guide.

Muhammad talked about the Homing Pigeons exhibition which was on display inside the Cathedral.

Our friends had a lovely time inside the Cathedral enjoying the beauty and the history of the cathedral. Abby and her assistants were there to answer the visitors’ questions and direct them if needed.

Our friends enjoyed exploring the art works made by Syrian kids, accompanied by moving messages, in the Homing Pigeons exhibition, Muhammad’s pilot project. The best part of this encounter was the response of the kids in our group — delightful drawings, sketches, and messages done on the spot. These will be sent as postcards to the young artists in Aleppo, making this a truly interactive project.

At noon, all visitors were given the lunch boxes, made by Ellie Kisyombe from the Our TABLE Dublin food company, and they all said that the meal was delicious.

With the help of our volunteers, led by Kate Kavanagh, we went smoothly to the amphitheatre located behind the Dublin City Council’s Woodquay offices. Lorcan Scott kindly made it easy for us access this area, through the help of Lorraine Bull, Biodiversity Officer at DCC.

At this lovely place, and blessed with nice summer weather, we all had our lunch together, chatting, playing, and singing. Meanwhile, Andrew Lynch from BirdWatch Ireland showed our guests a new, beautifully illustrated short bird guide. In one-to-one, but socially distanced, conversations, he inspired them to listen to the birds’ voices calling nearby, engaging them very effectively with the wildlife around us.

Volunteers, friends, and kids played a short soccer match there. Meanwhile, two Syrian women with same name, Amal, which mean Hope, distributed their delicious homemade Syrian sweets to all the visitors.

Kate led us again, to walk up around the old wall of Dublin. Even though we had to stay in our bubbles, there was more and more of a sense that we were together and getting to know each other.

Heading up to St. Audoen’s Park, we explored its natural features, its roses, and flowers, while the kids used the creative playground equipment. Andrew continued to chat with our friends, and the kids and families were surprised and delighted with the gifts he kindly brought from BirdWatch Ireland’s shop, soft bird toys which gave the appropriate call for their species when squeezed.

The group gathered again, to be led by Kate to walk to the Liffey. We passed the historic Four Courts facing the river, and we saw gulls and other birds along its banks. Finally, we walked back to the Cathedral, via the front of the DCC offices, taking our last photos of this lovely day.

Looking forward to see you all in our next excursion!